V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Electronic overload

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media July 20,2008

In the media world, I am a dinosaur.

I don't own a CrackBerry, I still use a "ghettoblaster" (how '80s, I know) and I indulge in my guilty pleasures -- following the Hollywood lives of the young and clueless -- on a 15 inch TV monitor.

But, according to a recent study, it's this abstinence from mounting a 40 inch flat screen TV on my wall that could help spare the planet an effect that's greater than the world's biggest coal-fired power plants.

In the study out of the University of California, Irvine, scientists warned the industrial chemical used to make flat screen TVs is 17,000 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Environmental scientist Michael Prather calls nitrogen trifluoride the "missing greenhouse gas" in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, and calculates that the rising demand of flat screen TVs will produce 4,000 tonnes of NF3 globally this year, and double next year.

If the production of this year's NF3 were released into the atmosphere, the warming effect would be equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of Austria.

According to Japan Electronics and Information Technology Association, demand for flat panel TVs will double to 180 million units by 2012, largely as a result from strong sales in China and the U.S.

But because NF3 isn't covered under the Kyoto Protocol, no one tracks how much is released into the atmosphere, Prather says.

The irony is that scientists came up with the chemical as an alternative to another greenhouse gas, perfluorocarbons, which is subject to Kyoto targets, points out an article in New Scientist.

This could spell trouble in the next few years when Canada shuts down its analog over-the-air broadcasts and converts to digital transmission.

By August 2011, Canadians watching telly on analog sets -- rabbit ears, free channels such as the CBC -- will be tuned out and either have to buy a set-top box converter or a new television with digital signals.

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission estimates this will affect less than 10% of Canadians.

The analog switch here will happen two years after the U.S. where the transition happens next year, at which time Canadians wanting to watch U.S. programming will also have to buy either a converter box or a new picture box.

Concerns down south are already brewing about old TVs ending up in landfills.

And as homes are increasingly being filled with electronic gadgets such as video game consoles, DVD players, flat-screen TVs and multiple computers, we're sucking out more electricity than ever, even when turned off.

Electronics that use standby power account for 10% of a household's annual electricity consumption, says Environment Canada.

Items which previously needed some good old fashioned elbow grease -- like the toothbrush and lemon juicer -- are now motorized, pointing to our lazy-arse ways.

So next time you reach for that electronic yodelling pickle -- number seven on stupid.com's worst gift list -- try yodelling a little ditty yourself whilst crunching on a gherkin and I guarantee you'll get the same reaction.

Shock and awe.

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·  Ontario this month moved to impose a new e-waste fee on manufacturers of TVs, computers, peripherals, monitors, and fax machines, to help keep electronics out of landfills.

·  Similar plans have already been implemented in Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.

·  Ontario throws out about 90,000 tonnes of unwanted computers, printers and televisions each year. The province says that number could grow to 123,000 tonnes in five years.

·  27% -- Percentage of electronic waste that is recycled.

-- -- --

50% - Plasma televisions are 50% bigger than their old cathode-ray tube ancestors.

3X - Plasma televisions can consume three times more energy than older televisions.

10-20 X - Listening to a radio through a digital TV consumes 10 to 20 times more power than listening to programs on a digital radio.

25 - Average number of electronics in a Canadian home that use standby power -- accounting for 10% of a household's annual electricity consumption.

$9 - Amount Canadians spend out of every $100 on home furnishings and electronics.

Source: Statistics Canada


Total spending per year on furniture, home furnishings and electronics in Canada

·  $33.2 billion (2005)

·  $35.9 billion (2006)

·  $38.6 billion (2007)

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